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This Is Why Everyone In The Russia Story Keeps Talking About Adoptions

When you hear "Russia" and "adoptions" the real story isn't the children — it's US sanctions.

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President Donald Trump said on Wednesday that his dinner meeting with Vladimir Putin earlier this month involved what might seem an anodyne topic: adoption.

Mikhail Klimentiev / AFP / Getty Images

"It was not a long conversation, but it was, you know, could be 15 minutes," Trump told the New York Times about the chat, which the White House didn't originally disclose and which reportedly actually lasted for an hour. "Just talked about — things. Actually, it was very interesting, we talked about adoption."

That was the reason that Donald Trump Jr. originally gave for meeting with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others in a meeting at Trump Tower in July 2016 — an explanation that fell apart when Trump Jr. released the emails setting up that meeting.

Pool / Getty Images

But the White House continues to insist that the meeting was solely about adoption — and maybe also Magnitsky sanctions? — and the president himself insists that the meeting was a fair one to take, citing it alongside his own adoption chat with Putin in his interview with the Times.

The answer, it turns out, is Putin himself — a fact that Trump himself acknowledged in his Times interview.

Stringer / Reuters

"We talked about Russian adoption," Trump said. "Yeah. I always found that interesting. Because, you know, he ended that years ago."

So why did Putin block the Russian orphans from prospective parents in the US? Well, it has to do with US sanctions, a lawyer's death, and the kids that Moscow dragged into the drama.

The lawyer was Sergei Magnitsky, an auditor who was imprisoned on corruption charges in 2008 — but only after he alleged that powerful individuals in and near the Russian government had siphoned off millions from the state's coffers.

Andrey Smirnov / AFP / Getty Images

Magnitsky died behind bars in 2009, days before the one-year maximum amount of time he could be held without trial ran out. While detained, he developed an assortment of ailments that the government would not allow to be treated, and he was, according to a Russian human rights investigation, beaten severely before his death.

President Barack Obama signed the Sergei Magnitsky Rule of Law Accountability Act into law in 2012, placing sanctions on individuals thought to be connected with Magnitsky's death.

Alex Wong / Getty Images

As of 2017, there are 18 individuals on the so-called Magnitsky List who have had their assets frozen in US banks, and who are barred from entering the United States.

Putin and the Kremlin were, in a word, furious about this, and retaliated a few months later by signing a law that barred US citizens from adopting Russian children.

Afp / AFP / Getty Images

“There are probably many places in the world where living standards are better than ours,” Putin said at the time, dismissing concerns that the law would prevent Russian orphans from better lives. “So what? Shall we send all children there, or move there ourselves?”

"In 2011, about 1,000 Russian children were adopted by Americans, more than any other foreign country, but still a tiny number given that nearly 120,000 children in Russia are eligible for adoption," the New York Times reported in 2012.

Since then, Moscow has used the orphans as leverage to try to get the US to repeal the Magnitsky Act entirely, both directly and indirectly.

Stringer / Reuters

Veselnitskaya and a Russian-American lobbyist named Rinat Akhmetshin are among those who have worked in the US to try to use the adoption issue as a way to get the Magnitsky sanctions lifted.

So remember: When you hear people talking about "Russia" and "adoption," what they're really talking about are human rights-related sanctions that came about after a whistleblower died in prison.

Hayes Brown is a world news editor and reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York.

Contact Hayes Brown at hayes.brown@buzzfeed.com.

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